First edition (UK) with quotation from S. J. Watson
|Cover artist||Katie Tooke, Andersen M Studio|
|Set in||Amsterdam, 1680s|
|Published||2014, Ecco (US), Picador (UK)|
The Miniaturist is the 2014 debut novel of English actress and author Jessie Burton. An international bestseller, it was the focus of a publishers' bidding war at the 2013 London Book Fair. Set in Amsterdam in 1686–87, the novel was inspired by Petronella Oortman's doll's house on display at the Rijksmuseum. It does not otherwise attempt to be a biographical novel.
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Petronella (Nella) Oortman, a poor 18-year-old girl from the Dutch countryside, arrives at the Golden Bend home in Amsterdam of the wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt, who married her a month earlier. She steps into a house of secrets held by Brandt's ascetic sister Marin, the servants Cornelia and Otto, and Brandt himself, who treats her more like a friend than a wife. Brandt gives her a wedding present of a dollhouse designed to look like their nine room home in miniature, and she engages the services of a local miniaturist to add realistic furnishings to it. The miniaturist, whom she never meets, begins sending her lifelike dolls and furnishings that are eerily accurate, and even seem to predict the future. As a web of danger gradually ensnares the characters, Nella wonders if the fates of everyone lay in the miniaturist's hands.
Burton, who had studied English literature at the University of Oxford before embarking on an acting career, wrote the novel over a period of four years whilst supporting herself as an actress and PA in the City of London. She came up with the idea while on holiday in Amsterdam, where she viewed Petronella Oortman's doll house at the Rijksmuseum, and undertook extensive research on 17th-century Amsterdam, studying books, cookbooks, Dutch Golden Age paintings, maps, and wills. She trimmed the word count from 120,000 words to 80,000 words after participating in a creative writing course in 2011 and to better match the marketing target population.
The novel was the focus of a publishers bidding war at the 2013 London Book Fair. Of the 11 publishers that vied for the book, Picador won the UK and British Commonwealth rights for a reported six-figure sum.
Marin's private library
In the chapter entitled Trespasses, Marin Brandt's own private room is described as a sort of Wunderkammer, crowded with natural history specimens, maps of exotic lands, and scattered books (especially travel accounts), which are a testimony of Marin's diverse cultural interests and deep longing for independence, as well as a record of 17th-century Dutch intellectual fervor. The books listed in Marin's private library include:
- The Unfortunate Voyage of the Ship Batavia
- a banished book by Heinsius
- Saeghman's Almanac 
- Children's Diseases, by Stephanus Blankaart
- Bontekoe's The Memorable Accounts of the Voyage of the Nieuw Hoorn
A book central to the novel is of course Smit's List, a sort of ante litteram Yellow pages, where the address of the miniaturist is to be found.
Several books with tiny pages are indeed present within Nella's cabinet house.
Places in Amsterdam and in the Netherlands mentioned in the novel
The main setting of the novel is Amsterdam, at the turn of the year 1686. The Brandt house, whose rooms and inhabitants are reproduced in Nella's cabinet house, is located along the Herengracht canal, near the Golden Bend, where the most important families of the city used to reside. The Brandt house's main door's knob features a dolphin knocker. Petronella Oortman herself comes from Assendelft, a small but old village in the countryside in Noord-Holland. The miniaturist's shop itself, residing at the sign of the sun,
Jessie Burton, The miniaturist
is placed on Kalverstraat, where the cattle market used to take place at the time of the novel's setting. The miniaturist herself is said to be originally of Bergen in Norway, but has been trained by a clockmaker in Bruges.
The marriage party, during which Nella is introduced to the Meermanses, takes place in the main hall of the Guild of Silversmiths. The Meermans family has its own palace at the sign of the fox on the Prinsengracht.
The Old Church is where Pastor Pellicorne's pulpit rises, and where the Brandt brothers' mortal remains are eventually laid at rest. St. Anthonis church (Sint-Anthoniuskerk) is a smaller church outside the walls of Amsterdam, where the less fortunate were used to be buried. The Rasphuis is Amsterdam's prison for men (the Spinhuis was reserved for women), and its Schoutkamer provides the scenes of Johannes Brandt's trial.
As of 2016, the book has sold over 1 million copies in 37 countries.
While applauding the tone and setting of the novel, some reviews cited the shallowness of the characterizations. The Guardian and Chicago Tribune reviews observe that Nella is drawn more like a worldly, feminist 21st-century girl than a naïve 17th-century one. The Chicago Tribune adds: "[The main characters are] complex and complicated and suffer terrible tragedies, but Burton doesn't give us a deep enough look into their psyches. I'd read 100 additional pages just to get inside Johannes' head".
Awards and honours
- 2014 Waterstones "Book of the Year" winner for The Miniaturist
- 2014 Specsavers National Book Awards: New Writer of the Year for The Miniaturist
- 2014 Specsavers National Book Awards: Book of the Year for The Miniaturist
In August 2016, BBC One announced it had commissioned a two-part, 2.5-hour television adaptation of the novel. The adaptation was written by John Brownlow and produced by The Forge in conjunction with the BBC and Masterpiece. The series stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Nella, Romola Garai as Marin, Emily Berrington as The Miniaturist and Alex Hassell as Johannes. Location filming in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom was completed in April 2017 and the series debuted in the UK on Boxing Day 2017. Episode 1 was seen by 4.52 million viewers according to BARB's consolidated ratings, whereas Episode 2 was seen by fewer than 4.31 million and thus did not feature in the top 30 programmes for BBC1 in the week ending December 31, 2017.
- "Designing the cover for The Miniaturist: the more you look, the more you see". Picador. 20 February 2014. Archived from the original on 5 July 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
- "Jessie Burton: I never thought of The Miniaturist as ambitious". BBC News. 2 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- Spiegelman, Ian (29 August 2014). "Jessie Burton on the dollhouse that inspired her novel". USA Today. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- "BBC One announces adaption of Jessie Burton's sumptuous period thriller The Miniaturist (press release)". BBC One. 28 August 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
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- "Ex-CBC student Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist is out today". Curtis Brown Creative. 3 July 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
- Hoogedendoorn, K. (2018). Bibliography of the Exact Sciences in the Low Countries from ca. 1470 to the Golden Age (1700). Brill. p. 1346. ISBN 9789004361379.
- Cooke, Rachel (29 June 2014). "The Miniaturist review – Jessie Burton's much-hyped but unconvincing debut". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
- Memmott, Carol (29 August 2014). "Review: 'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
- Tim Masters (1 December 2014). "Miniaturist novel named Waterstones book of 2014". BBC News. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- "Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist voted Specsavers Book of the Year". BBC News. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- "The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton up for £10,000 Desmond Elliott book prize". BBC News. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
- "Casting revealed for BBC One's gripping adaptation of The Miniaturist". BBC. 7 April 2017. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
- "Cast announced for TV adaptation of Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist". Pan Macmillan. 10 April 2017. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
- BBC website. "BBC: The Miniaturist". Retrieved 14 December 2017.